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NBA Playoffs: Beware of Blowouts

   by Jim Feist - 04/30/2009


The NBA playoffs are in full swing, which means overall the better teams are battling each other. This is different from the regular season when many nights great teams are playing bad teams and bad teams are playing worse teams! Astute sports bettors should pay very careful attention to blowouts.
Think back one year ago in the playoffs. The eventual champion Celtics had a 2-0 series lead on the Hawks and were a favorite in Game 3 at Atlanta. Boston had won the first two games with ease, 104-81 and 96-77. Instead, the Hawks not only covered Game 3, but won, 102-93. Two years ago the Spurs had a 2-0 series lead on the Jazz and were a favorite in Game 3, but the Jazz flattened the Spurs in an upset, 109-93. A tide turning win? Or just a good team having a bad day? San Antonio won and covered by double digits the next two games to close out the series, the final game a 25-point rout. Overall, blowouts are less expected this time of the year. Oddsmakers are anticipating that the majority of teams want to be here and will play all out for 48 minutes keeping things relatively close. The Celtics/Bulls first round series was a good example, with 3 of the 5 games going into overtime and four decided by 3 points or less.
Playoff teams have some talent or star players, which also makes closer, more competitive games likely, especially as the playoffs move along. Still, one-sided games can happen for a variety of reasons. Three years ago the defending champion Spurs positively trashed the Kings in Game 1, 122-88. The stats on the game were frightening, with San Antonio shooting 57% and holding the Kings to 39%, while winning the battle of the boards 51-32.
The blowout, combined with the suspension of Ron Artest, helped push the betting line from 8 to 12 for the next game. However, a funny thing happened in Game 2: the Kings showed up. They showed up with a vengeance, too, taking the Spurs to overtime before a wild 128-119 loss, though the angry dog still covered. Public perception can be such that many were thinking the Spurs were going to destroy the Kings even worse in Game 2. However, the veteran Kings were embarrassed and angry. A very different team showed up for Game 2, one that was motivated by the blowout loss.
The point is, don't easily dismiss teams that get routed. If they have talent, are well coached, or have strong leadership, they can bounce back and look like a very different team the next game. Another factor to consider is defense. Many teams that make the postseason know how to play defense and in a blowout loss, perhaps a team simply had a bad defensive game. Or, the opponent was doing something that they couldn't adjust to. Though after watching game films, adjustments are made, which is why they can look like a very different team.
That happened in the Wizards/Cavaliers series last year. Cleveland won Game 2, 116-86, then Washington came home and took a must-win game by 36 points, 108-72. Had the tide turned? No, Cleveland won Game 4 as a road dog, 100-97. Adjustments and motivation can spur a team in a bounce-back role, as well as the fact that they simply had a bad game. Even handicappers have to learn not to overanalyze certain situations. The important point is not too read too much into a single, one-sided game.
Even regular season games can have an effect. On opening night two seasons ago, the defending champion Heat were hosting the Bulls and were demolished 108-66 by Chicago on championship banner and ring night. Don't think the Heat forgot, because when the rematch took place in Miami, Chicago was thrashed, 103-70. One Miami player said after the payback, "We knew we owed this team," while the coach added, "Our guys took it to heart."
The playoffs only increase competitive fire and passion with teams facing each other over and over again, making adjustments and revenge spots even more acute. You may recall the NBA Finals three years ago, when two blowouts were followed by close nail-biters, with the dog covering. Dallas won Game 2, 99-85, but the next game Miami won by a basket. In Game 4, the Heat rolled by 24 points, only to see Game 5 go into overtime and decided by one point.
This is nothing new. Four years ago in the Finals, the Pistons destroyed the Spurs 102-71 in Game 4. The next game, the Spurs were a +3.5 dog, yet got their revenge in a 96-95 straight up win. When the playoffs opened four years ago, the Celtics danced all over the Pacers in a 102-82 Game 1 rout. Boston players made foolish comments after the game about how they were already thinking about advancing to the next round! In Game 2, a very different Indiana team showed up in an 82-79 win as a road underdog. They eventually won the series, too. Every dog can have his day in the NBA playoffs, so be careful: one-sided blowouts can be very different the next encounter

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